Fixating on the Wrong Thing

For the last couple of years, much of the debate about detention at Gitmo has focused  on silly arguments about torture.  Flushing a Koran -- Torture!  Showing a picture of a naked girl -- Torture!  The comfy chair  -- Torture!  As I wrote in this post,

Here is my fervent hope:  If I ever find myself imprisoned by hostile
forces, I pray that they will torture me by sitting me in a chair and
having me watch them flush books down the toilet.

If I bought into the theory of Rovian infallibility, I might argue that this was all a clever trick to distract the country with the left hand while the right was really doing the damage.  Whether planned or not, the media certainly fixated on the left hand, while the right was doing this:

In a series of probing and sometimes testy exchanges with a government
lawyer, two of three judges on a federal appeals court panel here
indicated Thursday that they might not be prepared to accept the Bush
administration's claim that it has the unilateral power to detain
people it calls enemy combatants....

"What would prevent you from plucking up anyone and saying, "˜You are
an enemy combatant?' " Judge Roger L. Gregory of the United States
Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit asked the administration's
lawyer, David B. Salmons.

Mr. Salmons said the executive branch
was entitled to make that judgment in wartime without interference from
the courts. "A citizen, no less than an alien, can be an enemy
combatant," he added.

The real threat to freedom and the American way here was always the Bush administration's incredible theory that it had a right to name anyone a combatant and then detain them forever, without any sort of independent review or appeal.  Particularly in a "war" with no defined enemy.  It's incredible to me that the Congress and courts have let this slide as long as they have, and good to see some scrutiny may finally be applied.  Hat tip: Reason.  More here, here, here.  Looking back through my archives, I seem to have made this same point months ago:

One of the problems I have making common cause with many of the
civil rights critics of the Bush administration is that they tend to
hurt legitimate civil rights by exaggerating their claims into the

A good example is detentions at Gitmo.  I believe strongly that the
Bush administration's invented concept of unlimited-length detentions
without trial or judicial review is obscene and needed to be halted.
But critics of Bush quickly shifted the focus to "torture" at Gitmo, a
charge that in light of the facts appears ridiculous
to most rational people, including me.  As a result, the
administration's desire to hold people indefinitely without due process
has been aided by Bush's critics, who have shifted the focus to a
subject that is much more easily defended on the facts.


  1. Ian Random:

    Wait, hold on a second. That Pallisade(sp?) guy joined a foreign army that we are fighting and then returned home to fight for said army. An army who isn't subject to the Geneva Conventions because they don't meet the criteria.

    Ian Random

  2. Matt:

    Of COURSE they switch the focus to "torture". After all, it's a double-whammy for them. First, they get to redefine "torture" to mean "anything a Republican does that we don't like", and second, they get to avoid scrutiny of the fact that they won't remotely mind having that precedent lying around when it's THEIR turn to occupy the White House and they want a law on the books that lets them pull people off the street for no reason and lock them up forever.

    After all, if one takes a close look at who's getting detained right now, there aren't really any who don't present at least credible evidence of being allied with the enemy. I wouldn't make the same assumption about the people that the next Democrat to win the presidency wants rounded up and put into camps.

    For the record, I have NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER with detention of enemy combatants. My objection is to the broadening of the definition of "enemy combatant" to include American citizens taken while unarmed in an American city where no combat has taken place since before the Civil War. Such a person, if they have in fact taken up arms against the United States, is guilty of Treason and should be punished for it...but even traitors cannot be punished without first being convicted of that crime in a court of law. This is not to protect those who actually are traitors, but rather to protect those of us who happen to be opponents of a given political administration from being punished as if we were traitors.

  3. ThomasJackson:

    What is wrong with unlimited detention? War by its very nature is of indefinite length and duration. Are we to believe this conflict will end in six months; years or decades? Someone detained for assisting or participating with the jihaddies certainly isn't going to represent any greater threat to us by being detained. On the other hand it is worrisomne that a number of suspects who have been released have been detained again on the battlefield. I guess its time to exercise our rights under article IV or the Geneva Convention.

  4. Dale:

    Unlimited detention without trial is the standard for POWs, even those who are proper combatents under the Geneva Convention (Germans in WWI and WWII, Spainards in 1898, Confederates, etc.). The German Army in both world wars and the Italian Amy in WWII would have included American citizens (Born in USA, parents returned home with young children)